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Spotting the Difference: Common Forms of Dementia

You may be familiar with Alzheimer’s – but did you know that there are over a hundred different types of dementia that people can have? Each one results in a variety of behaviours and symptoms, making dementia a bit tricky to describe or identify quickly. While ‘dementia’ as un umbrella term refers to a chronic impairment of mental processes, the type of dementia that a person has will determine the treatment which is best for them; which treatment will delay symptoms and best enable people with dementia to lead a fulfilling life.

Here are a few insights into some of the most common forms of dementia, their symptoms, and how they can be treated:


Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for approximately 50-70% of dementia cases. Alzheimer’s causes the physical structure of the brain to change and disrupts the brain’s ability to send messages to other parts of the body.  A person with Alzheimer’s will slowly degrade in their abilities to remember past events, understand other people, and communicate what they are thinking.

For those with Alzheimer’s, there are a few medications that can be taken in the disease’s early days to delay and mask its progression. However, it’s also important for people with Alzheimer’s to take good physical care of themselves – exercise can help improve symptoms.

Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is most often caused by strokes, when a blot clot prevents oxygen from reaching parts of the brain. It is the second most common form of dementia, occurring in 20-30% of people with dementia. Physical symptoms of dementia may include partial paralysis, loss of sensation in parts of the body, struggles with movement and coordination, and difficulty speaking. People with vascular dementia may also be more prone to depression than other types, as they are more likely to be aware of what is happening to them.

Pre-existing heart conditions can increase the likelihood of developing vascular dementia, so living a healthy lifestyle can decrease chances of it occurring. Cognition-enhancing medication is also available to assist in alleviate symptoms.Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLM)

Lewy bodies are abnormal deposits of protein which occur in nerve cells, disrupting the brain’s ability to carry out regular functions. Symptoms of DLM include memory loss, stiff or trembling body parts, hallucinations, and confusion.

DLM cannot be treated with the same medication as other forms of dementia, as people with DLM can react badly the neuroleptic drugs often prescribed to people with dementia. Some people with DLM find medication used to treat Parkinson’s disease effective; for others, it worsens their hallucinations.

Frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is relatively rare, occurring mostly in people under 65 years old. It is named after the two lobes of the brain it affects – the frontal lobes, which regulate mood and behaviour, and the temporal lobes, which control all sensory input. People with Frontotemporal dementia may exhibit changes in their personality, their ability to empathise, and their sense of socially appropriate behaviour. They may also struggle with speech and communication.

While there is no cure for Frontotemporal dementia, symptoms can be managed through antidepressants or antipsychotics, as well as therapy to assist with communication.

If you’re at all concerned that you, a family member, or friend may be exhibiting symptoms of dementia, getting to your doctor is the best way to get a proper diagnosis. Once a diagnosis has been made, you’ll be able to access the support and education needed to help you or your loved one make the most of every moment. Talk to your local organisation, such as Dementia Auckland, to find out how you or your loved one can live well with dementia.

About Dementia Auckland

Dementia Auckland
Dementia Auckland is a not for profit organisation dedicated to providing dementia support services and inspiring those living with dementia to make the most of life. Dementia Auckland provides a wide range of services and support across the greater Auckland region. Dementia Key Workers offer intensive support and practical strategies for the carer of a person with dementia, including home visiting, telephone consultations, and support groups. Visit www.dementiaauckland.org.nz for more info.

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